This post captures a few notes from a second round of thesis brainstorming.
This time I took a completely different tack, exploring ideas surrounding sustaining the communities and knowledge present on the web without the need for a centralized infrastructure. What might happen, for example, of catastrophic technical or political events shut down ISPs — or if increasing regulation / paranoia leads to national firewalls or censorship? Could the web be rebuilt with the scraps of hardware most consumers already have on hand? Are WiFi routers, devices, and personal storage ubiquitous enough to patch together a mesh resembling the web as we know it today?
In the context of a thesis project, I envision answers to these questions manifesting as a kind of survival kit. A suitcase full of hard disks and wireless connections, for example, designed to restore fragments of the web to nearby users and act as a node in a broader network of data survivalists.
Here are a few questions to shape early exploration of the idea:
How big is the internet? How about just the text? How much physical space would it take to store a copy of the whole thing?
Build or find a wardriving app for the iPhone that will log SSIDs / MAC addresses / geo coordinates while walking around new york. From this data, I could find out how much of the area could (hypothetically) be covered by an ad-hoc mesh-based internet to verify the feasibility of the idea (at least in densely populated areas). WiGLE has been collecting wireless access point info since 2001, and they’ve aggregated and geo-tagged a list of about 27,500,000 WiFi access points so far. Here’s how coverage looks across the United States:
What data do people take with them before they go off-grid?
The subway, for example, is a wifi-free zone… and many riders descend with a few gigabytes of Mp3s at the least. More obsessive types might find ways to cache fragments of the web for consumption sans-connection.